Monday, September 19, 2011

Start of New School Year

I have learned something about myself I think I would rather not have ever learned. It all started on a normal day. It was cloudy, warm, and peaceful—a perfect afternoon for a jog through the countryside, or so I thought. At first everything seemed normal, but they were there. Waiting. I didn’t think they would cause me any trouble; I could just run on by minding my own business, and they could keep on doing whatever it is they do. But they wouldn’t let me go. They stood in my path. A gang of them. Fierce, stubborn and angry. They blocked my path. There was nowhere else to go. There was only one way back to the school…and it was through them. I took all the courage and energy I could muster, found a small opening near them, and sprinted through with them honking and snapping their orange mouths after me. That’s right. This year I have discovered….I am afraid of geese. But these geese are relentless. They puff themselves up big, make a line almost impenetrable, and bore through into my soul. Twice they have tried to attack me, and never is there a friendly farmer around to protect me. It’s become my reality—how to avoid running into the geese. I feel like a wimpy kid trying to avoid the neighborhood bully on the playground. But I have decided to live with my embarrassment and fear rather than face my aggressors. I have since found a path to avoid them. At least the ducks are still afraid of me! (actually that is quite a funny story. I was running and ahead of me were some ducks in the bushes. When they heard me approach, they jumped a mile high and went sprinting as fast as their little webbed feet could carry them, peeing and pooping as they scurried away. My conclusions: 1. Ducks don’t run very fast; 2. I never thought I would ever scare the poop out of something. It is a strange feeling—sad, empowering, and funny all at the same time).
Other than the terrifying geese, my second year teaching in China has started out better than the first. I am already familiar with the school, some teachers, and my students from last year, so it was a matter of starting where I left off. Last year, I was stared at constantly and didn’t know anyone or where anything was. This year I have had students jumping out from corners screaming my name, giving me near heart failure, so that they can say “Hi! How was your summer?! I missed you!” Very sweet, but I wish they would find a calmer way to greet me.
This year is also different because Janice and Mark are gone, but replaced by Jiangyou’s 2nd Peace Corps volunteer. I mentioned her briefly in my last blog, but have since gotten to know her a bit better. She is very kind. I spent the first week showing her around, taking her to Wal-Mart, and filling her in on the things-to-know. It’s weird being in that position. I feel like I haven’t been here long enough to be the senior foreigner at the school, but I guess I am. Her personality is the opposite of mine, which complements things nicely. Whereas I am more quiet and shy around people when I first meet them, she is very outgoing and loud. She likes big crowds and thinks the more the merrier. I like small intimate crowds. She sends her students to me to for sports and I send my students to her to learn American cooking and to get more grammar help (I know some grammar very well, but in other areas I have learned I am very weak at explanations). So it works out really nicely. One thing I appreciate about Mary is her willingness to speak up about things. I tend to let things go too easily, but she will ask more questions and persist to get things done. I hope some of this trait can rub off on me by the end of the year.
Mary and I plan to work on 3 secondary projects together. The first is the English Resource Center. I have written to Darien Book Aid (a wonderful organization that sends books out to those that need it most. They send books to schools in the US, other US groups, and US groups working abroad) and this organization has already sent me a package of books weighing 20 pounds. I have also been working on a Peace Corps grant to get money to really jump start the Resource Center. So that plus the books Janice left and the ones my mom brought with her will make a decent size resource room. I am currently just waiting for the school to provide a space. Once I get the room, it should be a matter of days before it is up and running with students borrowing resources and coming for English help. Depending on the size of the room, Mary and I hope to have office hours there and possibly to host clubs there. But that is in the making, so stay tuned!
Next, Mary is helping me with English Corner. We had our first English Corner of the year last week, and the turnout was better than anything last year. I think Mary did a better job of advertising and encouraging her students to attend than the other foreign teachers did last year. At one point I think we had nearly 90 students show up. The ending number was around 70 students. It was crazy, but the students seemed to have enjoyed it. Since it was the first one, we just played some games and focused on the students having fun. Hopefully students will continue to join during the rest of the semester. I will have to rely on Mary’s strong vocal cords during future English Corners because my voice was strained. I had to drink a lot of tea afterwards to recover it. I should find my rape/storm whistle or whatever the purpose is of the whistle Peace Corps gave us.
The last thing Mary and I are working on together are the monthly teacher potluck dinners that I started last year. Mary immediately took to the idea of reaching out to the teachers, as well as the students. This year there are a lot more new teachers, many of whom are English teachers. Mary and I have been working hard to meet and introduce ourselves to them. Last weekend we had our first potluck at my house. There weren’t as many teachers as we had hoped, but there were 4 new people. A few couldn’t make it at the last minute but hope to join in next time. It was an interesting potluck, though. First, Mary was quite late because her stuffed peppers were taking longer to cook than she anticipated. So we were all chatting while we waited. There was one male teacher who came with two female teachers. He is an art teacher and new to the school. His contribution was beer and snacks, which I thought was humorous. Almost every time I invite a male colleague to a potluck, they bring beer. Anyways, the “interesting” part was when one teacher, who brought her 5 year old son along, let her son drink some beer. It took all my will-power not to say something. I told Mary later, and she said she might slyly bring it up in the future. Anyways, as you can imagine I was shocked. Everyone else just laughed at the concept of this 5 year old drinking beer, and the male teacher even toasted him! Later I asked Vivi if this was a common occurrence in China, and she assured me that it wasn’t but that she thought the beer didn’t have much alcohol in it and it was more like drinking juice. Since Vivi is my good friend I had no issues telling her my opinion about that statement. Anyways, regardless of this, the potluck went okay, and I hope that more teachers are able to participate in the future. The next one will be in October, and we are thinking of having a barbecue on the roof of our apartment building (should the weather be nice). Maybe with a Halloween theme?
Other than these secondary projects, I have a few which I plan to start on my own. The first is a women’s group. Many of the women in China (not only girls) haven’t much idea about women’s health or women’s issues. I hope to bring these up in an intimate women’s group. I have already had some success speaking with small groups of students about issues they face, as well as women’s concerns and women’s health topics. This Friday I will have an interest meeting, but I plan to have an application and only choose 15-20 girls. I want something small where the girls can get to know each other and feel comfortable discussing various issues and topics that they most want to discuss. The application will consist of 6 questions:
1. Why are you interested in joining a woman’s group?
2. What are some challenges facing women today?
3. How do you feel about being a woman?
4. Who do you think is the greatest woman (or women). Why?
5. What are some topics you would like to discuss in a women’s group? What are some activities you might want to do?
6. What is a good day and time for you to meet for a women’s group?
Based on their answers I will choose the girls. The ideas I hope to cover are health, stress relief and pressures facing women, international women’s issues, and more. And the activities I am thinking of doing are watching films and having discussions, reading articles and discussing, doing sports together, having a young man as a guest speaker or several young men, and more
The next idea for a secondary project is having a culture club. Many students are interested in the culture of western countries, but they have limited opportunities to study it. This club will be open to anyone who wants to come. I am waiting for Kerry to find me a room that I can use regularly, which also has technology (so that I can use PPT and videos). I will take into consideration topics that students want to talk about, but the topics I have considered thus far are: school, holidays, etiquette, dating, marriage, and more.
Other than that, many teachers and students have been interested in running with me in the afternoons, so I have been going to the track every afternoon that I have free time to run with those that want to run. Also I have been trying to be more active in doing activities and inviting students over. It is my goal to do something with all of my students, but we shall see. I have been having groups of students over to watch movies, which is the easiest and most relaxing thing to do. Also students have come over to play cards, cook, and show me things on the internet (mainly their pictures).
My first of the semesterweekend, Mary and I both had students come over to my house to eat. It was the Mid-Autumn Festival (which meant that I had tons and tons of delicious moon cakes from students and friends) and many students couldn’t go home. So we invited a small group of our students to share lunch with us. First we went shopping together downtown. Then her students cooked at her house, while my students cooked at mine. Then everyone met at my house to eat and play cards. It was really nice for the students to interact like that, since there isn’t much mixing of departments. Most of Mary’s students are in the preschool department, while most of mine are in the English department.
That weekend was also Teacher’s Day. Last year there was a performance. This year there was no performance, but the school gave all of the teachers cooking oil. Also some school leaders took Mary and me out for a banquet one weekday evening. That was interesting. It consisted of a lot of drinking, a lot of smoking, and a wee bit of throwing up. What?! Yeah, all Chinese banquets have drinking—that’s a given, but this year we took it up a notch. After most of the leaders were drunk, they decided to smoke. Last year I was saved by the fact that there was a baby in the room (Janice and Mark’s son), but this year with no baby, the smoking was brought back. Imagine a small room with no ventilation and 9 lit cigarettes. I thought I was going to be sick. They also insisted that I take one. Well I took it and let them light it and immediately proceeded to put it down. No one seemed to be offended that I didn’t smoke it. Some tried to push me to take another or to smoke it, but Mary helped to stand behind me that I didn’t want it. I help her that she doesn’t want to drink, and she helps me that I don’t want to smoke. Anyways, it was fine and like any other banquet, minus the smoking and minus our waiban throwing up in the corner and in the hall. Oh what a night! And Mary’s first banquet, at that.
I seem to have forgotten something. Oh yeah, my classes. My schedule this year is as follows:
Monday 905-1045 and culture club
Tuesday 905-1045 and 130-215
Wednesdays 905-1045, 1105-1150, 130-215, and 320-405. And English corner 530-630
Thursdays 905-1045, 1105-1150 and 130-215 and women’s club
Fridays 1105-1150 and 225-405
I am mostly teaching second year English majors this year, which gives me the opportunity for more interesting things in class since their level is a bit higher.
My syllabus:
Grade distribution:
30% notebook (new words/ phrases, listening practice, homework/class work)
35% Test 1
35% Test 2

1. Every week you need to bring a notebook and pen and write down the new words, homework, and activities.
2. You must participate and attend every class. If you miss class, you must do the homework and write the new words from the class you missed (ask your classmate)
3. You must participate in class and help your classmates

Weekly Schedule
Week1: syllabus/class information
Week2: Group assignments
Week3: structure of a conversation/ expressing opinions
Week4: conversation topic 1: hobbies
Week5: conversation topic 2: entertainment
Week6: conversation topic 3: health
Week7: conversation topic 4: dating
Week8: conversation topic 5: travel
Week9: conversation topic 6: stereotypes/gender roles
Week 10: conversation topic 7: dreams
Week 11: conversation topic 8: environment
Week 12 and 13: Test 1 (part 1: listening: week 12; part 2: speaking week 13)
Week14: telling a story
Week 15 and 16: Test 2
Week17 and 18: interviews; evaluations; review

Classes are good so far, but it is only the third week.
And last, but not least, (drumroll please) I have an impacted wisdom tooth! Yay! So next month I will take a trip into Chengdu to have it removed. I am super excited. If you didn’t know I have never had a wisdom tooth removed. I am quite a bit nervous, but, thankfully, Leo should be there that weekend to help take care of me. I have no idea what is in store for me. Any helpful advice?

1 comment:

  1. holy moly, that was a long one (and yes, i'm a bit late in reading it).
    1. the scaring-the-poop-out-of-the-ducks part made me lol. for real. I miss you!
    2. I'm glad to see the new year has started off well. Any progress on any of the new projects? (resource center, potlucks, womens group, etc.)
    3. My roommate and two other friends are applying for the Peace Corps this year. It's crazy that we're already applying for post-grad opportunities. time...where does it go?
    4. CHS has their pre-state meet this weekend. They're going for #4 this year! I'll keep you posted :)